Andrea Berloff’s gangster film is full of girl power, but light on substance.
The Kitchen promised a lot, with a star cast, a popular genre and a theme that seems perfect for the post #MeToo world. So why did it fail to deliver? Largely, the issue lies with the writing, which offers us a hole-filled plot fand characters that aren’t easy to like.
We meet Kathy (Melissa McCarthy), Ruby (Tiffany Haddish) and Claire (Elisabeth Moss) just as their lives are about to implode. Kathy seems to have it all, with a happy, loving family, while Ruby and Claire appear pitiable and unfortunate, forced to put up with the cruel men in their lives. Then, just as suddenly as we met them, the husbands are in jail and the wives are left to pick up the pieces.
Quickly realising they won’t be supported like they were expecting, the three leading ladies decide to take the matter into their own hands, and in the blink of an eye, they’ve gotten the whole neighbourhood to switch from paying Jimmy (Brian d’Arcy James) for protection to paying them. Apparently all it took was a smile and a bit of charm. Never mind the ridiculous idea that people would all happily jump ship without any fear of retribution, but why would members of Jimmy’s own gang join the naive movement, as well?
This isn’t the only plot hole that galls. There is also the issue of Jimmy, an established criminal, just letting three women steal his business with barely a word spoken, let alone a punch thrown. No, ever the gentleman, it’s only when they’re rude to his face that this violent thug puts his foot down. How will he seek revenge you ask? Will he get his gang to hurt them, or visit his old clients to show them who the boss really is in Hell’s Kitchen? Of course not. Instead, he’ll find one of the women at work during the middle of the day and try and rape her. Cue knight in shining armour.
When the plot isn’t frustrating you, the characters are, especially that of Claire and Ruby. At least Kathy’s growth makes sense, as the little mouse grows into a roaring tiger, but what of the other two. You give them a gun and these two wilting women are suddenly cold hard criminals. There’s no real development, just a sudden, confusing jump between personalities. Berloff might have considered this change necessary for the story, but the result is poorly developed characters who grate on the nerves of the audience.
For all that, the greatest sin this film commits is its failure to truly embrace female empowerment. A film about strong women? Then why is it they are never strong on their own. From the get-go, they rely on men to carry out their commands, legitimise their rule and protect them from aggressors. First its Kathy’s cousins, then it’s Gabriel (Domhnall Gleeson), then Alfonso Coretti (Bill Camp) and the Italian mafia. No matter where you turn, there’s a man propping these mobster queens up, and that’s just not the film I signed up for.
Yet, despite all the flaws in this film, The Kitchen is not a total write off. The music included and shots of Haddish, McCarthy and Moss strutting their stuff on the New York streets can’t help but put a smile on your face. Additionally, while the concept of female empowerment in the film is flawed, there are certainly moments where you’ll feel caught up in the spirit of the film and oddly proud of Kathy, Ruby and Claire. For all their faults, they’re carving out space for themselves in a male-dominated world and that’s always fun to see, even if the execution isn’t perfect.
The Kitchen’s brand of comedy works well, with satisfyingly dark humour. There are many scenes that will surprise you, and audiences will find themselves laughing at all kinds of inappropriate moments, from assassinations to funerals.
It’s a film that loves to shock, and that it certainly does, but the fact that nothing is off the table is what keeps the audience engaged, curious to see who else will hit the ground before the credits roll.
Overall The Kitchen is a flawed film, and certainly not a must-see, but one still worth watching if you enjoy dark comedy and have the time to spare.
The Kitchen is out in cinemas now.